Every year at Nikkei Place’s Community Awards + Fundraising Dinner we honour people or organizations with awards for their immense contributions in building a strong and vibrant Nikkei community for all. They are our community leaders that help shape our ever changing community. This year, we honour four awardees — Dr. Akira Horii with the Presidents’ Award, Takeo Yamashiro with the Outstanding Community Service Award, Yoko Matsuno with the Japanese Culture Award, and John Endo Greenaway with the Japanese Canadian History Preservation & Education Award.
Meet Dr. Akira Horii:
- Japanese-Canadian, interned at East Lillooet
- In 1960, became one of only four Japanese-speaking physicians in Vancouver.
- Now a retired family physician who served many Japanese-Canadian patients
- Clinical Professor Emeritus of Family Practice, University of British Columbia
- Regularly shares his history and family’s story at area schools, universities and at Nikkei Place.
- Long-time supporter of Nikkei Place and provided flu shots to the residents of Nikkei Home and donated his fees to the Society.
- Volunteered with Strathcona area schools, Vancouver Aquarium, Nikkei Centre and Nikkei Senior’s Health Care & Housing Society.
- Presently an active volunteer Speaker for Nikkei National Museum’s Taiken Education program
- Former Board member of Nikkei Seniors Health Care & Housing Society
Akira Horii’s parents had lived in BC since their arrival in the 1920s from Mirozu, a small fishing village in the Wakayama area of Japan. His father helped to build a thriving cod fishery and establish the first multi-ethnic fishing association, the BC Cod Fishermen’s Coop. The Horii family lived in Japantown, an area around Powell Street in Vancouver.
Following Pearl Harbor, Akira reflects on life in his neighborhood and that “Japantown came to a standstill bringing with it economic hardship and a half to social life. There were no late ball games, judo practices, concerts or visiting; no ‘hanging out’ by the young Nisei or listening and dancing to jukeboxes at a café. We were warned that breaking the curfew could lead to severe punishement, including being sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in a place no one had heard of – Angler, Ontario.”
After his father’s fishing boat was taken away and they were ordered to leave the coast, Akira and his family were granted permission to move to East Lillooet, a selfsupporting internment map in the BC interior. The family had to pay for their own transportation and housing materials. At the camp, they were responsible for building a school and paying the teachers’ wages. There, Akira also became involved in baseball. He remembers how baseball brought the Japanese-Canadian and local white communities closer.
In 1949, after the ban was lifted that restricted Japanese Canadians from returning to the coast, Akira Horii entered the University of British Columbia. After finishing his first year, he was pressured into joining his father in the family fishing business. He speaks about this experience at length in an oral history interview for Simon Fraser University’s Japanese Canadian Oral History Collection. After three years, Akira went back to complete his undergraduate degree before entering medial school. He graduated in 1960, becoming one of four Japanese-speaking physicians in Vancouver.
Dr. Horii has shared his story of internment at schools, churches, public lectures and through books and oral histories at his own expense. He has provided insight into the culture and heritage of Japanese Canadians from their pioneering days through war years and to the present. One of his nominees wrote ”Although now retired from his profession as a family doctor, his kindness to all people regardless of racial origin is well remembered.” He provided flu shots to residents at Nikkei Home, at no cost to the seniors. Dr. Horii is a former Board Member of the Nikkei Seniors Health Care & Housing Society and is an active volunteer speaker for the Cultural Centre’s Taiken Education program. A Nikkei Centre staff member wrote:
“Aki Horii has played a vital role in our education programs for a number of years, and in my experience with him over the past year, he has increased his amount of involvement and dedication to the programs. He has spoken to elementary, high school and university level visiting students and has visited two school in spring of 2016 to speak to one group of 40 private school students and another group of about 120 public school students at the elementary level.
He is always open to helping out and is incredible to work with. He makes the programs easy to organize and operate. He is open to speaking about historical events and his personal experiences to reach the children in a unique way. Aki has also been open to using powerpoint presentations in his talks, which I operate, and has adapted to this method very easily. Aki is also featured as one of four individuals on our Taiken Education Film series: Nikkei Experiences: Our Elders, Our Stories. The films have been produced, and are being made accessible this summer to fully launch to educators in the fall of 2016.
Finally, his gentle manner, approachability, and respectfulness create a good environment to teaching children and youth, and make it very easy for me to organize the programs.”
In recognition for his distinguished career in Medicine, the University of British Columbia awarded Dr. Horii with Emeritus status as a Clinical Professor Emeritus of Family Practice in 1997. Dr. Horii demonstrates an outstanding dedication to his own work while maintaining a high level of commitment to community service and education. He has been recognized by his peers and also from within his community.
Dr. Horii’s interviews can be found in the following:
• Interview with Akira Horii: Japanese Canadian Oral History Collection, Simon Fraser University
• Interview with Akira Horii: Collections of Nikkei National Museum
• Fukawa, M. Sprit of the Fleet: BC’s Japanese Canadian Fisherman (2009)
• Hickman, P. and Fukawa, M., Righting Canada’s Wrongs: Japanese Canadian Internment in the Second World War